David Burnett was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, 1946. He began working as a freelancer for Time, and later for Life magazine in the 1960s. After two years in Vietnam, and the demise of Life weekly, he joined the French photo agency Gamma, and subsequently, in 1975, co-founded Contact Press Images, in New York. Burnett's work for news magazines in Europe and the USA has included politics, sports, and portraiture as well as news. He has covered every Summer Olympic Games since 1984, as well as the 2002 Winter Games, and photographed every American President since John F. Kennedy.
His awards include Magazine Photographer of the Year from the Pictures of the Year Competition, a World Press Photo of the Year, and the Robert Capa Gold Medal from the Overseas Press Club. He has produced photographic essays for Time, Fortune, Geo, Paris-Match and ESPN magazine. Burnett served previously on World Press Photo juries in 1997 and 1999, and taught at the Joop Swart Masterclass in 2007.